National Wildlife Refuge System

Special Management Areas

Biosphere Reserves

Biosphere reserves are protected areas of representative terrestrial and coastal environments which have been internationally recognized under the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Program for their value in conservation and in providing the scientific knowledge, skill and human values to support sustainable development. Biosphere reserves are united to form a worldwide network which facilitates sharing of information relevant to the conservation and management of natural and managed ecosystems.

Five units of the National Wildlife Refuge System are included in Biosphere Reserves

Name of Biosphere Reserve Refuge System Unit Included in the Reserve
Aleutian Islands Aleutian Islands Unit of Alaska Maritime NWR
Carolinian-South Atlantic Blackbeard Island NWR
Wolf Island NWR
Cape Romain NWR
Central California Coast Farallon NWR

For further information about the Man and the Biosphere Reserves visit the Biosphere Reserve Program Web pages.


Research Natural Areas

The Service administratively designates research natural areas on refuges; currently there are 210 such areas on refuges totaling 1,955,762 acres.

Research natural areas are part of a national network of reserved areas under various ownerships. Research natural areas are intended to represent the full array of North American ecosystems with their biological communities, habitats, natural phenomena, and geological and hydrological formations.

In research natural areas, as in designated wilderness, natural processes are allowed to predominate without human intervention. Under certain circumstances, deliberate manipulation may be used to maintain the unique features for which the research natural area was established.

Activities such as hiking, bird watching, hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, and photography are permissible, but not mandated, in research natural areas. Research natural areas may be closed to all public use if such use is determined to be incompatible with primary refuge purposes.


Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network

The Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network links wetland and associated upland sites essential to migratory shorebirds in a voluntary, non regulatory program of research, training, and collaborative effort for habitat management, environmental education, and protection. Shorebirds migrate across the hemisphere, some from the Arctic to Tierra del Fuego. Their movements carry them through wetlands with immense natural value to wildlife and to humans alike. The Network uses shorebirds as symbols of the intense conservation challenge that wetlands face and of the need for international cooperation in the protection of these areas.

Twenty areas within the National Wildlife Refuge System have been designated as shorebird reserves.


Wetlands of International Importance

Adopted in 1971 in Ramsar, Iran, the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance provides a framework for the conservation of wetlands worldwide. Marsh, fen, peatland or water - static or flowing; fresh, brackish or salt - even riparian or coastal zones adjacent to wetlands are included in and protected by the Ramsar Convention.

Nineteen areas within the National Wildlife Refuge System have been designated as units of nine Ramsar sites.

Last updated: February 24, 2014